As chairman of the national 9/11 commission, former Gov. Thomas Kean has gone before the president, Congress and other powerful dignitaries with lessons of Sept. 11.
Yesterday, Kean spoke to an ar guably more-influential audience when he shared many of those same lessons with educators crafting a curriculum for teaching New Jersey’s children about the attacks.
“You have an enormous responsibility,” Kean told the group gathered at Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. “How to teach this terrible event and get across these things to our children, you are vested with that incredible responsibility. But if I have faith in anything, I have faith in teachers.”
The setting was a conference kicking off a yearlong effort to develop curriculum and resources for teachers faced with a dual chal lenge of teaching the history and context of the terrorist attacks in communities that witnessed them.
And with about 100 educators in attendance yesterday, it was clear the hurdles don’t stop there. There are rising demands on teachers throughout the year, scant resources in textbooks and elsewhere and even the timing difficulty of an niversaries that come only days after schools open.
“We need to be dealing with this in totality … more than a simple commemoration,” said Robert Barnshaw, a Gloucester Township teacher. “And in the pattern of the year, Sept. 11 is probably not the best time to be doing that.”
To hear Kean and others speak, Sept. 11 could easily be its own course, although most agreed it’s a topic better infused across different subjects and even into nurses’ and counselors’ offices.
“It’s an event that’s absolutely unique in the history of this coun try and needs to be treated as such,” said Kean.
The former governor’s national commission in 2004 penned a scathing report on the lead-up to the attacks, with widespread blame meted out for security lapses and policy failures. While mincing few words yesterday in sharing those lessons with teachers, Kean also implored them to tell students about the courage and action that arose from the attacks, from the heroism on Flight 93 to the activism of survivors’ families.
“Tell the story in the classroom about those who suffered losses simply unimaginable, but also about what came out of that loss that was absolutely amazing,” said Kean, a former teacher. “As part of 9/11, you have to tell that story.”
The ultimate report will be modeled off New Jersey’s successful Holocaust curriculum, which is not specifically mandated by the state but has provided background and lesson plans for teachers.
Most at the conference agreed there’s a need for such guidance, but they also said the task of teaching the many facets of Sept. 11 will only begin there.
“It’s not a cut-and-dry issue,” said Vincent Soccodato, social studies supervisor in Woodbridge. “And not something that will be going away anytime soon.”
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